Mint Season 3 episode 7 welcomes Alex Zhang, a Co-Founder of Friends with Benefits, and the aspiring Jane Jacobs of DAOs. This was probably the most important conversation I’ve had on Mint so far. He brings so much insight and is really well versed with all things DAOs, aka decentralized autonomous organizations.
In this episode, we talk about:
- 0:00 – Intro
- 4:10 – Growing up with Immigrant Parents
- 7:34 – Becoming the Jane Jacobs of DAOs
- 20:55 – Understanding Dynamism in a Digital City
- 24:02 – The Differences Between Real Cities and Digital Cities
- 29:34 – FWB Season 4
- 39:47 – Crypto as an Incentive
- 46:49 – Photography and DAOs – The Similarities
- 49:09 – What Eats Web 3.0?
- 51:30 – Outro
…and so much more.
Thank you to Season 3’s NFT sponsors!
1. Coinvise – https://coinvise.co/
2. POAP – https://poap.xyz/
3. Socialstack – https://socialstack.co/
Interested in becoming an NFT sponsor? Get in touch here!
Alex, welcome to Mint. How are you doing, man?
Good. Happy to be here.
Yeah. Excited to have you on. I want you to tell me a little bit about yourself, but more specifically, what were you doing before crypto and where are you now?
Yeah I was pretty recently crypto pilled, maybe about six to eight months ago. So pretty fresh. I would say I had a pretty introductory experience to crypto, mostly through my peers. You know, buy Bitcoin whatever years ago. And never really was interested in like the DeFi yield farming, like that whole category side of the space. My background has always been more in sort of the intersection of culture and technology. More importantly, the sort of layering and aggregating of people and how people interact with each other through those different sort of mediums and industries. So that took shape, and I threw a lot of parties in college, organized a lot of events and experiences. Was mostly fascinated from the technology side, with social networks and marketplaces, like how do people come together? How do people transact together? How do people build to accomplish shared goals? When I started learning about DAOs through friends who were sharing things late last year, earlier this year, that was like the first kind of big click for me. Like NFTs were rad. I understood what it meant, what it meant for my friends who were creating art or to have the sort of non fungibility and the values of non fungibility to those specific assets. But for me, it was really DAOs and the sort of replacement or the future state of the corporation and how people could work together and work towards something that really got me sort of let’s say crypto pill or whatnot.
I like how you brought up the whole reference to college. I think a lot of people who end up going to university start to explore the early interests and the early passions. You kind of got started with organizations by producing events. First of all, where’d you go to school?
I went to USC.
Right on. Likewise. And second thing, what kind of events did you put together? Like did you run a club over there? What’s the context behind that?
Yeah. USC was a really interesting place in that it was quite a large university and it was in LA. So we had really strong access to culture and music and art and nightlife, like outside of the city quite early. So for me, I got really involved with the radio station on campus as well as started a handful of my own organizations within the entrepreneurial space. So it was, you know, one finding the radio side of university and working with a hundred or so DJs, and learning how to DJ myself, and having my own radio show and sort of seeing the value of a group of like-minded people who had an obsession over music and curating great music. And then also identifying and kind of this scratching, this sort of let’s call it an entrepreneurial bug where I was like, man, I really want to start a company or I really want to work with people to start companies. But at that time, USC didn’t really have a connected ecosystem for that. It was kind of everyone wanted to go be consultants or investment bankers or work for a big tech company. And so a group of friends of mine, we started an organization called lava lab and we started an organization called spark SC, and we just started really bringing together hackers from all different spaces from the business school, from the engineering school, from the design school and bringing them under sort of one roof. And we created a coworking space and we created all these different resources as a means for sort of this Switzerland on campus. Because we parked it inside of the communication school. And so there wasn’t this ego of like, oh, this is coming out of the business school or this is coming out of the engineering school is kind of like one fluid hybrid space. And so that was kind of an early sort of infrastructure where I learned the value of multidisciplinary sort of cross-pollination right. Bringing artists and creatives into an entrepreneurial space to launch companies and vice versa. I started to throw parties around that in my backyard. I started to throw parties for our university, booking talent and just became kind of obsessed with community architecture, community building. You know, what happens when two people randomly meet and build something together and it becomes a thing. And then in facilitating environments for those connections to kind of occur again.
Growing up with Immigrant Parents
All right. So I did research about you beforehand, but I didn’t come across the element of spark SC in lava labs. So for those who don’t know, those are like two of the most important organizations on campus. Alongside Troy labs, I’ll shout out Troy labs, which I helped bring to life as well. And the USC blockchain community over there. It was first called the Trojan blockchain society helped do that as well with other friends, and then that kind of merged with blockchain at USC. But super cool. A lot of how I got started, a lot of my inspiration, a lot of my motivations stemmed from organizations on campus, stemmed from all the shit that happened outside of the classroom, all the fun, all the brainstorming that happened with students around me, regardless of what school they were. Super cool, didn’t know that about you. Moving forward, what was it like growing up in the Zang residence? What do you think helped inspire and spark that initial motivation that led you towards leadership, organizational design, decentralized governance? Anything that you kind of like look back at, and you’re like, oh, interesting, I used to do this and this and that and that’s probably why I’m doing this?
That’s a great question. Yeah. My parents were both immigrants from Beijing. Grew up in a suburb of California and so a suburb of LA in Claremont. And so just the family dynamics and having to often explore curiosities and passions outside of the home was just something super critical to me early on. My parents sort of taught me this level of resilience and, you know, sort of the immigrant story where you kind of figured everything out on your own. You know, there’s always a third door, right? It’s not option A or B. There’s always some kind of ingenuity that comes from just having to immigrate to America and deal with all the sort of challenges that come with that. And so it was just really like, you know, my dad is just the most clever person I know, and always coming up with amazing solutions to things. And so I’ve always been sort of a hacker, you can call it, early on. I did sort of institutional things. I did corporational things I hated. This is the way things should be done, so you should follow it. And even though my parents often kind of impressed that upon me, right. They wanted me to go work at big corporations and all these things. And I was like, nah, I like creating things. I like working with sort of undefined things in spaces. And so that was really where I established kind of an early obsession over the unknown on the undefined, then it was really, you know, as sort of in growing up in an immigrant household and then being a minority growing up in the states, you often have to be like, all right, how do I fit in? Like in high school, how do I find my people? If they don’t look like me, how do I find my sort of community? And then it’s often like leaning into whatever strengths that you have at the time, which for me was like my social sort of dexterity and agility, and then my ability to be the floater in terms of moving between different friend groups. So hanging out with, you know, the kids out at the skatepark, hanging out with the homies on the football team and the soccer team or hanging out with, you know, I was in all AP and IB classes. So it was kind of like, I sort of move fluidly throughout these different spaces. And that taught me about being a multidimensional individual and creating bridges between different types of groups and I found that to be way more interesting than just being defined by one specific category. And so, I don’t know. I think that those two experiences were pretty formative. And then now how I treat and design systems today in terms of thinking about diverse systems, organic systems, how do people come together and create things. Sort of, you know, the more diverse the inputs, the more complex the outputs. These types of framings were all from childhood and growing up.
Becoming the Jane Jacobs of DAOs
I think, like you as well, my parents migrated here from the middle east when they were in their twenties and they had my brother and I here and they both came here not knowing the language. Actually, my mom kinda got what’s the word immigrated from, from the Mexican border, kind of thing. And our family snuck her in, and my dad managed to fly over here from the middle east, had my brother and I, didn’t know the language, no nothing, had a couple thousand dollars in his pocket and just made something. Just figured it out. And there’s something about growing up around that energy, around that mentality that teaches you, grit that teaches you that third door mentality, right? One thing that comes to mind, you’re from LA is like, when we’re on the 4 0 5, like merging to the 101 and there’s always a long line of cars just waiting to make that intersection, and then there’s that side lane where you just like drive through and just like cut right in. That’s the type of thinking that parents taught us. At least that’s what I’m picking up from you. That’s how it kind of translated to me as well. So it’s cool to see you also kind of explore that unknown because growing up for me, my dad always told me he’s like, go to Google, go to JP Morgan, go to these big tech firms, and I’m like, no, I’m going to this thing called internet, funny money called Bitcoin. Like, this is what I want to do. Like it’s new, it’s fresh. It’s different. So yeah. Cool to hear that. Let’s dive into DAOs. One thing that stood out to me about yourself is, in your Twitter bio, you aspire to be the Jane Jacobs of DAOs. For starters, who’s Jane Jacobs? And why do you aspire to be her for DAOs?
Yeah. It’s funny how much that bio resonates with different people. But yeah, I mean, so Jane Jacobs, I first encountered her work, she’s a journalist and author activist, sort of urban studies, sociological legend, and was in this camp of you know, Christopher Alexander, a lot of these different individuals who thought intensively and wrote intensively about city design and how cities affect people and how cities affect economics and sort of the relationship between these different environments. But really what I brought from her work was a really empathetic sort of human led lens. And so the first book I read by her was the classic, the death and life of great American cities. And that was sort of my red pill into an urban theory where I was like, whoa, this is really interesting, someone writing about how sidewalk width is important to how cities function and how people bumped into on streets and what that means for how people use them on streets. And all the way down to fuels the work of thinking about the role of parks in cities as these kinds of like main central locations and areas where people could flow in and out and a place where, you know, like New York city has really great socioeconomic stratification. The beauty of New York is you can be, you know, a very wealthy individual billionaire who lives on the upper east side, or you could also be a struggling artist student, and you guys could walk through the street because of how the city is designed. Versus as someone who grew up in LA, you would uniquely understand LA isn’t designed for that, right? LA lacks that space. You don’t bump into people in LA. Everyone’s in their cars. Everyone’s driving from their house to the restaurant that they’re going to go eat at and go back home. In New York, there’s a lot more serendipity. There’s the shared space. There’s the subway system where everyone has to use that to an extent to move and navigate across the city. That work was fundamental for me in my last role, where I was the creative director at a community organization called summit series, where we threw global festivals, events, and crowdfunded to purchase a ski resort in Utah, where we were building a town from scratch. So it was the study of urban studies and how cities are built that I used when designing 3000 person festivals and conferences or designing and working with the team on the foundations of how a ski resort is developed and built in terms of what’s private space, what’s public space, what’s mixed use, what’s the relationship between commercial and residential, what has economic policy affects on how people interact with these cities? And so, I’m like a city nerd and found her work to be really interesting. And she’s sort of revered as the grandmother, alongside like Chris Alexander, on how great cities are sort of built. And I think what we’re seeing now with DAOs and what we’re seeing a lot now with these internet communities that are sort of forming overnight via fractionalized NFTs, or via tokenization of communities, or even the internet at large, no different than let’s say Reddit, is these look like internet cities. And when you apply a similar design thinking framework, like how wide does the virtual sidewalk analogy look, or what is the role of the public park? What does a public good look like on the digital internet? Things like that start to be really exciting and are interesting reference points on making decisions as an architect or as a leader.
You know, and we’ll get to that. I have a long list of questions. Like what does crime look like at a DAO? What does a sidewalk look like in a digital city? We’ll get to that in a minute, but talking more about Jane Jacobs and how she’s inspired a lot of your thinking, a lot of your leadership, what are some of the key takeaways that she writes about that you find yourself applying on a day-to-day basis to let’s say FWB for example? This could even be tied to the upbringing of season four too.
So high level, Jane Jacobs really champions this notion of community-based approaches to city building. And so really studying how a city isn’t ever designed top down. Like a good city has never a mayor being like, all right, this is all, we’re all gonna fall in line. A good city is a really good governmental layer, creating the right infrastructure, the right boundaries and allowing for the citizens to color inside or outside of the lines and to populate it with their own recurring repetition of patterns and interactions. Christopher Alexander, who writes a lot of stuff with the same sort of philosophy. And so, you know, what does that mean on a city level? What that means is like, no, one’s telling you how to live in a city. There’s no instructions for how to live in New York, but the way the city is designed is done in harmony with how people live here in a way that what you come to love and enjoy about New York is the serendipity people say on the streets, right? Like you run into someone on the street and it’s got energy. Everyone’s like the city is alive like that’s intentionally designed, but it’s populated by the people who exist within that framework. And so I think, it was that grassroots bottoms up community built approach that made so much sense to me when it related to internet design and in order sort of internet community design in a way that internet communities are no different, right? You can’t just spin up a discord and have a community. That needs to be like, if you think about your channel design, like all your different discord channels, those are no different than creating your streets and your pathways in city design for playing SIM city or for playing whatever. It’s like, if you have thousands and thousands of channels before you have people, everyone’s going to be dispersed and spread out, and there’s never going to be like sort of a central location where people gather. So for me, it was really thinking about like, okay, what channels are central park? What channels are our main meeting place where, if you think about it, what are the roles of parks in great cities right now? Parks, at least in the last two years, I mean, actually in the last hundreds of years, right, parks were places for either celebration, protest or places where people could immerse themselves in nature and unplug from sort of an intensive city environment. So it’s like, what does that look like in a digital environment? Well, and have to FWB, we have something called FWBgeneral chat, which is sort of like where everything goes down. It’s kind of like the main town square. And it’s designed to be like, where someone’s like lost, or if someone raising a protest, or if someone’s like celebrating some sort of a win, that’s where you go to sort of like be one with the masses and then it all sort of fractionalizes and breaks out into way more specific channels that are based on interests that are based on value set that are based on a whole bunch of different set of criteria. You can think of it no differently than in New York, you hang out in Bushwick or you hang out in the upper east side, or you hang out in Chelsea. These all have different value sets based on architecture cost of living, there are types of people living there and access to whatever, like local resources. So I think we think of channel infrastructure as just one example. If you think about it from a city’s perspective, like what are the public spaces where you can increase the number of interactions between communities with like-minds and the shared interests to like increase serendipity in relationships, but then translating that into you know a digital environment where you want to increase those different connective points.
I have never heard anybody describe a discord channel, the way you just outlined all those channels and how they pertain to IRL type of locations. And it’s actually such a good way to do that because for those who are going to be listening to this, whether they be creators/contributors in that realm, when they’re trying to start their own web three communities, I feel like that’s the right way to look at it. Where are people going to be spending time the most? How do you define every single channel and what they should be doing in there, and kind of zooming out and using a physical location as like your guide from let’s say a city point of view makes everything, I guess, come together much more smoothly in my head. Like, it just makes so much more sense. I’m looking at the discord over here, the friends with benefits discord, and I always just saw them as like channels, but when you put it exactly, they’re literally neighborhoods.
And when you go to things like the NFT channel, it’s got its own vibe. There’s like the same 10 to 15 people who are the most active people driving a lot of the discourse. There’s about a hundred to 300 people who are watching that discourse. NFT general is our most popular neighborhood, and it has sort of its own unique sort of distinct culture. And so my role wearing the sort of mayor hat is really looking at those types of channels and how do we give them resources to continue to develop and enhance and amplify and repeat those patterns that are happening on that local level. And so if we’re really zooming in on this like city analogy, it’s sort of no different than if you think about like, you know, I got really into like parks for a while. What makes a good park, and why do people visit certain parks? One of the things that I was really fascinated by was the role of the park bench and how park benches play in parks. You’ll notice this the next time you walk into a really good park, like one in Paris or one in New York, or you know, any of the major European parks is all the benches face inward, they all face the street, or they all face the walkways. And it’s designed in a way to create a spectator sort of a voyeurist spectator relationship into a public space so it doesn’t feel weird to be sitting there alone. Because if a park bench was facing sort of a random tree or something, it quickly lacks stimulation, and eventually you get bored and you leave. But a park bench faces the walkway because it’s not weird to sit on a bench and smoke a cigarette or like, you know, eat or drink a coffee because you’re watching passer Byers cross every second, and you can sit there for like an hour and just kind of watch people. And I think of, you know, I designed physical massive events around that exact same structure. Like how do you create a festival experience where people are sitting and watching other people, and using that to increase a stronger sense of purpose or belonging in that space. And now I’ve translated the same analogies to the discord where people love to just watch people chat with each other. There’s something weirdly voyeuristic about watching two people chat. People love when people argue with each other, and there’s a little bit of drama or people love when someone’s in the Discord kind of like chatting or typing, and it’s that same voyeuristic perspective that I think about designing for in this sort of park bench example in Jacob’s talks, Jane Jacobs has a whole chapter on park benches.
I used to live in Switzerland and in Austria, and one thing I noticed while living in Europe for about nine months, I noticed how when you look on Google maps, all the cities or a lot of the major cities are designed as rings, right? And rings in a way where, within those rings that have smaller rings and smaller rings and smaller rings. Why is that? I never looked into that. Why do you think they’ve designed it like that? And you probably don’t know the answer, but what’s the context behind that and does that apply to how digital cities work too?
So the most likely reason behind why cities are designed in ring formats is a function of labor markets and capital markets, as it relates to proximity of commute time between the center of a city and the outside of the city. So for instance, the reason why the sort of ring in the center is smaller, it’s a function of density and labor, right? Asia is a fantastic example or even New York city where like, you know, the middle is more dense with higher skyscrapers because that’s where a lot of the economic value of a city is being driven. You’re commuting to work. And then the public transportation is designed in a way that allows for you to commute from your home, which is typically in a suburb, right? The older you get, most people typically move outside of these rings because it’s cheaper and you get more space. And so this idea that the center is the center of a ring, because it’s the highest density of vertical building, you know, typical, you know, whatever skyscrapers where you have thousands of employees inside of a small radius or a smaller geographic footprint is a function of how cities respond to sort of economic drivers and labor markets and capital markets, if that makes sense. Because if people are too spread out and you don’t have a center of the city, your public transportation, won’t reflect sort of efficient ways to commute to work in a more, you know, this is all obviously before people were working remotely and on the internet, as most of these cities were built, you know, whatever in the last a hundred to 200 years. So a lot of it is defined by I think like labor markets.
Understanding Dynamism in a Digital City
One thing that Jane Jacobs talks about is cities having like certain levels of logic and dynamism. And dynamism is basically the quality of being characterized by vigorous activity and progress. That’s how I understand the pulse of a community, the vibrancy of the community. How does that translate to a digital city?
Yeah, I think about that way too much. I mean, that’s pretty much one of the core themes behind friends with benefits. Really thinking about how you increase dynamism or frequency of interactions between individuals. And so I think about that in a couple of ways. I think about that one, understanding that most communities form sort of one to many, right? There’s a central leader, there’s a central creator who comes in and is like, all right, everyone join my discord and we’re all gonna hang out here and I’m going to drop content for you guys. That’s like level one and quite one dimensional. I think what Jane’s referencing there is this idea of like the difference between many to many and the difference between sort of peer to peer. And so peer to peer is like one to one, many to many is like network effects where like you actually now have Of let’s say 50 people, in one to many example, I stand up on a table and I’m like, everyone, what’s up. Welcome to my crib. This is what we’re going to do. Peer to peer is like one person talking to one person, many to many is like all of those each having the ability to talk to the 49 other people. And so I think of dynamism as the acceleration of that with a shared goal and a shared purpose, which in a city example can often be a lot more soft, but it’s essentially people gravitating towards cultural totem poles, if you will, or cultural sort of pockets. In the digital city building context, it’s essentially about establishing as many, many to many relationships as possible, and like creating the infrastructure where people can actually form strong connections with as many different people and be incentivized and encouraged to build things with those people. So in FWB, we do things like hackathons. We do things like town halls. Every two weeks, we do things like public voice chats, where we talk about things. We have a meeting in like two hours where we, as a community are going to be building and re reviewing a code of conduct for this community. We do vision and value sessions where we like to talk about what the values are of FWB as a city. So all of those are like touch points that I think accelerate dynamism so that people feel empowered to then be like, you know what? Like I’m going to do this. I’m going to help out with this. I’m going to contribute, and that recipe of a group of talented, passionate, high quality contributors who feel empowered to participate is essentially dynamism and no different than a city. And what you saw with let’s take George Floyd last summer and his murder, that sparking a sense of dynamism across all of these major cities, where everyone was like, we’re going to now start to self-organize and use networks to march and to protest and to do this. That is a beautiful example of a resilient community or resilient city, is people being able to execute those types of campaigns and initiatives from a grassroots level.
The Differences Between Real Cities and Digital Cities
You know, one thing you brought up earlier is this concept of sidewalks and park benches. I want to dive into those characteristics of what pertain to a physical city and its different attributes and how that translates into a digital city. For example, like some components that come to mind. Sidewalks, parks, retail design, concepts of self-organization, opera houses, all these things that kind of allow people to congregate, transportation. All these key things that define and give color to a city are now trying to be forced to squeeze into a discord server. Like what, what’s the equivalent of like transportation on the digital side? What does that look like at FWB for example? Like, what does an opera house look like for entertainment on FWB? What does crime look like from a traditional physical setting, but like in FWB for example?
So a couple of things, I think it’s really important in this city analogy that we don’t also take it too literally. I don’t think it’s like literally all of us living on the internet, exclusively on the internet, but I think of it more of the internet city as a framing from an urban theory perspective of like little bits and pieces that you want to remix. And so I say that as in, I think everyone would have to agree, we don’t want to all live on the internet. Like we view the internet, we view web three, we view blockchain as tools to actually enhance the physical world. It’s why a big part of our experience and roadmap for friends with benefits is throwing wicked parties and having great experiences and like bringing people together in a physical IRL environment, but like facilitating coordinated digitally. Even though some of those examples, for instance, sure. We could think of it explicitly in a digital context in which there are good parallels, right? Crime totally exists. Right? Online harassment, sexual harassment, people, violating codes of conduct, people being assholes to each other in a Discord. That is crime. If it violates a set of rules created by a community that is governed by that community, that’s the police, right? Some sort of enforcement mechanism with some set of consequences that are established, those exist in really mature online communities, codes of conduct and guidelines, things like that. Opera houses, right? I mean, if you distill what an opera house even is, let’s just say that’s a physical place that represents some sort of cultural attraction. That could be no different than like Jess Sloss every Thursday doing his seed club talk. You know what I mean?
I want to hear Jeff sing. That’s what I want to hear.
So yeah, I think they’re both physical and they’re both digital, but I think it’s more important to think about things like the theory around these types of things. So for instance, in FWB, you know, there’s a lot of conversations around like, man, our token price is way too high for people to join dah, dah, dah. And we just launched a new initiative yesterday called FWB local, which is essentially being able to join our city DAOs and our city channels for five FWB versus right now it’s 75 FWB to join the full membership at the discord. What we often think about when we think about this cost of living is we use this analogy of like, well, right now to live in New York city, you pay a pretty penny and you decide where you want to live. But if you want to live in Manhattan, you’re paying an even prettier penny , depending on if you want to live in, you know, Bed-Stuy right in the suburbs. And so it’s like, but why do you pay higher premiums? And then you pay higher premiums for better access to culture, better access to people, right. To eat at really nice restaurants, to go to really great museums and opera houses, to participate in a certain level of cultural production that if it warrants that. So we think friends with benefits is no different. Like right now, our gating mechanism is quite one dimensional, seventy-five FWB to get full membership, five FDB to get access to our events and our cities, one FWB to read our content or to read our newsletter, stuff like that. But that’s all like we’re in the first, second inning of FWB. I think the long term horizon is if you think about it from an urban planning or urban theory perspective is, how does FWB as a token or as a gating mechanism start to be thrusted into the hands of the community where the community can start to set their own thresholds for FWB sort of approved or sanctioned activities, events, experiences, content, where it starts to take a little bit more of a market based approach. Where if someone wants to throw a 20 person dinner in New York and you need 200 FWB to join, great, they should be able to do that on an individual level. But if someone wants to do something for one FWB, they should also be allowed to do that. And then it’s our role as more of a cultural currency to sort of organize index that and communicate that and approve things that fit our brand and community ethos, but ultimately allow for the community in itself to populate the different thresholds and the different access points where I think the long term success of FWB is a diversification of the token and of the access points, so it actually starts to function like a cultural currency. So it’s like if Adam wants to do a hang in LA for 50 people and he wants to price it at 70 or 200 FWB, but only two people show up, then that’s on you. You priced it too high. You know what I mean? Even a restaurant pricing their menu incorrectly, or opening up a restaurant in the wrong location. And so that’s how we’re starting to design the infrastructure in a way where right now it’s, FWB establishing these different gating sort of thresholds, but eventually creating a dynamic, flexible sort of much more antifragile infrastructure where the community can sort of set these different FWB points and diversify no different than if you were in a city, you could choose if you want to go to an expensive restaurant on the upper west side, or you can choose if you want eat a hot dog at the park for like a dollar it’s up to you.
FWB Season 4
And I want to jump into season four right now because we’re already talking about that. So the whole theme of season four is basically defined by the strength and independence of our local parts. That’s how you kind of summarized it in discord when you guys announced it. And just to quickly recap, season three, You guys had an incredible performance, the community as a whole from, and this is again, picking up notes from what you guys wrote. And also my experience kind of living in, voting on stuff and contributing is having a Chris Dixon pitch to FWB, and getting that capital infusion or increasing membership growth, what by four X, quadrupled? And the community is just pulsating on a whole nother level. And now season four is like, okay, we have all these people in here. How can we empower people to be on their own? And co-create with one another. That’s what I kind of like picking up. So, talk to me more about how do you guys plan to implement that? What does that look like in practice? Beyond just a theoretical point of view. And I know you gave a couple examples, but could you go a little bit more into that?
Yeah. I’m happy to. So yeah, season four is really this idea of the strength of the whole will be defined by our local parts, right? In the sort of interdependence and Nicola collaboration and how these local parts begin to form their own infrastructure tools and decision-making capacities to really enforce the culture within those neighborhoods. And so on the literal example, that’s the city’s initiatives. FWB in the last two seasons was like me Cooper, Trevor, Derek, you know, all of us as like staff members running around these different cities, throwing parties. Like we threw Paris, we threw New York, we threw Miami and that was like us literally picking the location, doing all the organizing, booking the talent, getting the community there. But if you think about it, that doesn’t scale, right? If I want to throw a sick FWB party in Istanbul , it’s like, it doesn’t make sense for me to fly out there and discover that city and figure out where to throw an event. The decentralized way or distributed way would be like, how do we establish the infrastructure for an actual Istanbul city DAO to form or in this season 4, LA New York and London are sort of top three markets to form, to begin to elect their own forms of leadership, to pool capital together, and to begin throwing experiences for themselves. It’s like, I won’t know what the coolest hot new bar is or the new hot cool restaurant is in LA or SF if I don’t live there. And so the idea is to empower local constituents and citizens and token holders to begin to co-create experiences for themselves in those local cities. And then as a community member, you’re then able to visit LA, New York, London and access any of those events that are being planned on a local level. And so you can envision now, if you look at, even FWB , we launched this yesterday, the channels now have an LA dedicated channel with multi sub channels and New York London. Versus before in season one, it was just one channel that was FWB LA. And so what we hope will start to happen is the LA channels will to develop its own patterns, its own culture, its own community members, its own vibe that starts to become a lot more potent than the 400 LA members who are scattered all throughout the discord, but now all working towards shared goals and shared incentives. So that’s what that looks like on a city level. Now what that looks like on an even more galaxy level is take the NFT channel, for instance, this is a channel I’m really, really excited about. It’s our most active neighborhood by far. You’ve got every night you go to bed, you wake up and there’s thousands of new messages. Like no one can even follow along and the amount of alpha and they’re on NFT projects to buy or the amount of artists who are in there who are looking to make their first, you know, NFT project and they come from, you know, a contemporary art space is like really, really impressive. But there’s no way I can properly design the right tools and infrastructure for that group to succeed. Instead, I should empower local constituents leaders in those channels who eat, sleep, and breathe NFT general chat and give them tools, capital resources, and a framework to be able to build their own FWB inside of the NFT channel. The beauty about Web 3.0 is now, we have new value accrual mechanisms and the ability to do token swaps, the ability to do token investments, where we can align incentives. So it’s not like that community forks, but it’s now we’re all working towards the same goal, which is to provide utility and value to the FWB token, but they can do that in a much more local way. So what does that look like? That looks like empowering the NFT channel to essentially create their own investing mechanisms. Community members pool capital together to invest in NFTs. They can start to work together on a curatorial level, right? And the NFT channel can start to signal really cool artists, who they want to back and invest in to launch NFT projects. They can start to build their own tools, right? You can already see the NFT channel created an alpha channel where it’s just leaks and drops of really cool projects so people can invest in those or support those artists. If they miss the larger channels, like they’re going to start creating their own content, their own media. You can start to almost view this as like a city or a neighborhood within a city that starts to create their own brand and their own ethos. But also financial and social incentivize with the FWB sort of main DAO or the parent DAO. And so, yeah, FWB local is like a season motto where you know, the motto is locally sourced. Is it really about identifying these different sub-communities within FWB, whether they’re geographic like LA, New York or London, or whether they’re interest based like NFT general or you know, passion-based, whatever it might be. And if they meet a certain level of like activity and engagement and dynamism is as Mrs. Jacobs would say, the FWB DAO should support that and invest in that and help them create sort of their own squad where FWB starts to look a lot more like a network of a thousand squads kind of working towards the same direction, as opposed to like one big DAO with one multisig making all the decisions.
Interesting. How long did it take you guys to come to that conclusion? We’re four seasons deep now. Season one, it was just a social experiment. Season two was like, shit, shit’s getting real, like what’s happening over here. Season three was like trying to understand, make some structures, make some parties, all that. Now season four is in the picture. It feels so defined. It feels so focused. Like I align with that. And I’m not such a crazy contributor. But I vote on stuff occasionally. I was in like the investment channels and whatever when you guys were doing the fundraiser, when we were doing the fundraising, if you want to put it like that. But now it feels so defined. And it’s going to set an example for how many other communities operate, communicate, and how they think about their social layers. How did you guys get to that conclusion? The core team, at least in the community. I wasn’t a part of that. I guess I’m more like the outer ring kind of thing. But how did the core community come to that conclusion?
Yeah. That’s a great question and most of these are organic, right? And emergent is like a phrase we’ll use a lot. It sort of emerges over a period of time through multiple different sorts of inputs and organic sort of structures. I think it really was a beautiful chaotic culmination of like a lot of major pivotal moments for friends with benefits. I think it was the fundraiser where we got approached by pretty incredible partners from within the community and outside the community who started to ask some of these really, really hard questions. What’s the vision of FWB? I think season two and three, it was like, we all had our own little visions, but when you start to like, discuss that in a more institutional capacity you know, the need to sort of refine and crystallize that vision becomes a lot more apparent, right? So it was like a lot of people who had just really good bird’s eye views of the space. So it was like those gradual conversations being had with different partners. It really also was one of these really beautiful community exercises we started to do that started to provide a lot of value. So every other Friday, we started to do these things called like FWB vision values and mission sessions, where essentially, I would open up a town hall, our main stage chat and like a hundred, 150 people would show up on a Friday afternoon, and I would start pulling people up and asking them, like, what does FWB mean to you? And I started taking notes and I would start to ask guiding questions. I would interview people who had really interesting perspectives and we slowly started morphing from FWB as this ultimate cultural membership, which was really season two, season three, Into FWB as a city. And it was a couple of key stakeholders who really drove that vision, right. Jacob Horn from Zuora you know, Chris Dixon, Tina from pace like different people who were like really kind of geeking out about this urban perspective, as well as our core team members who have been immersed in a lot of this thinking Dexter, who really leads a lot of the product side of it, like is deep in this sort of urban planning you know, framing. And so it was like this connective tissue between needing to refine a vision when starting to like entertain large scale capital as well as like community organic bubbling up of people really resonating towards the city framework as something a lot more inspirational than building a digital social club or like a social experiment that I think once it started to hit, then I as one of the core drivers was really like this feels really good. Like I need to start immersing myself deeply in this culture. And what was great was I already had a lot of homework done on this. So it was now just contextualizing it for this sort of digital environment. So I started reading all these books, order without design, like all these sort of really dense theoretical books on things like city design, urban planning, labor markets, internet community building, and then having these conversations over a repetitive course of time. And then just testing things, right. Lobbing something out in a blog post and seeing if people pick up on it, dropping something in the discord. And it just seemed like the community really sort of rallied around it. And it felt like for the first time we had a proper framing of what we’re trying to do here. It’s all organic which is so interesting about it. I always tell people like, you know, this stuff is gardening, not architecture and it’s like art. You have no idea what direction that plant is going to grow. And it’s a weird combination of sunlight, water and soil conditions. It’s not like you can plan it out. You can’t be like, we’re going to arrive here and we’re going to work backwards from there. It was way more like leaning towards what felt good. And that’s why I think for a lot of DAOs it requires intuition and gut and like listening to your people and like going where those people are, and like having conversations with those people and then compounding and developing a thesis over time that you’re kind of like gut checking in public forums.
Crypto as an Incentive
Can these urban city primitives, the digital city ideas, principles be applied to let’s say like traditional, hardcore DeFi type of servers, or are they only applicable to social DAOs? Like could a creator who was an internet personality and has random Facebook group fan clubs of randomly populated channels online, could he, or she, or they, or whoever form these types of communities as well? Is that super applicable to them? Like, what’s the right DAO to do this? Obviously social DAOs, but maybe not all social DAOs.
I think everything, that’s human. It’s human, it’s on the human level. It has nothing to do with industry. Has everything to do with, like, I think it is human nature to seek belonging and community. I think frankly, why blockchain and why crypto is so strong and cult-like is because of this sense of belonging and an intensity that it creates when you join. It’s like when everyone first discovers crypto, you’re like down this crazy- name another industry where people talk about it as like a rabbit hole.Everyone is like, oh my God, I just got so rabbit Holed, and, you know, organic food pill. But it’s because there’s such a strong community layer to it. Like only less than a year in my Twitter timeline is entirely web three now. I’m like what happened? Like I had Twitter before. I followed like tons of other people. My timeline is entirely, like I’m in this weird little echo chamber where everyone’s talking about super nuanced DAO infrastructure tooling, and it’s getting like hundreds of retweets. And I’m just like, this is crazy. But to me, it shows that like, we’re part of a movement, a movement is composed of smaller movements, and like anyone building a DeFi protocol or a creator, who’s looking to bring their community online, these theories can be applied to anything. Like if I were to boil it down, it’s just like listening to your people, creating the right avenues and opportunities for those people to build relationships with each other, and then creating the framework and the infrastructure where those people can then be incentivized to build together. That’s the holy grail of crypto, because before this, all of those things were happening. There was just never a way to incentivize people. Everyone just did it from a social status perspective or an emotional perspective. People spend time in these different, you know, Reddit channels or Facebook groups. They’re no different. They all have very similar traits. People are building relationships one-on-one with each other, a natural leader emerges, like all these things. Crypto now actually allows these to turn into economies via shared bank accounts and financial incentive. So it’s no different than when wall street bets kind of showed the world a year or whatever ago where it was a group of people on the internet, moving markets, making money together. That’s no different than crypto. And so, it was people working together to align financial and social incentives. And so, I think these theories can be applied to any social organism as a way to essentially create emergent patterns and emergent strategies to accomplish any sort of goal that a group of people define to go accomplish.
What else can we expect from season four? Like what should we look forward to?
I mean, beyond amazing experiences in your city, to more and more really interesting neighborhoods electing their own leadership and forming their own sort of structure and creating their own-
Which, by the way, I started getting DMS from people like I’m running as mayor or something for this chapter, can you vote for me? I was like, shit, like it’s actually getting like, political like that. Like where have we gotten?
Yeah, that was crazy. It was amazing seeing like full grown adults who are so accomplished in their own individual professional and personal lives, like getting so invested in the process because they cared to campaign and create flyers and market. Like someone gave a concession speech, it was like, incredible to see. And I was like, this shows it’s human nature. We were joking, like it’s all student body government vibes. But yeah, that was pretty entertaining.
So what else, tell me more. What else can we expect from season four? You said like people forming their own initiatives, collaborating, connecting all that stuff. That’s what you guys are focusing on, but what does that look like? So more parties, right?
Maybe the alpha that I’ll share is that we’re getting ready to launch our very own sort of FWB owned social network. And so thinking about what a web three community owned direct member directory looks like. You sort of think of the utility of like a Facebook or LinkedIn, but being community owned and indexing and creating an identity layer on top of our community as for a way for token holders and community members to connect with each other, and not only like find potential collaborators based on like skillsets or interests, but to really start to serve as like the central infrastructure, the central on chain, online identity infrastructure for our entire ecosystem, where you can imagine a place to start displaying your POAPs, right? You voted on different initiatives, you can now display your POAP on your member directory on your profile. The ability when you check into the different events through the city DAOs , that all starts to aggregate on your profile. The number of governance proposals you vote on. Starting to create this FWB on chain reputation that is displayed and visualized in a fun FWB way, where we want to recreate myspace top eight. Who are your top eight friends in web three? We want to start to create all of these really sticky sort of social components that our product team has been heads down on for the last couple of months to really think about like, yeah, what is the identity later? What is the member directory? What does a social network that’s community owned look like in a way that can actually be governed by the community and can really be this central connecting point between our entire ecosystem of experiences as well as people? And I’m really excited about that. It’s still some ways out, but we’re hoping that that’s a mid season four type of initiative that we launch.
That’s really exciting. That’s really cool. I like to think about how we’re still in the Friendster phase of web three where we still have myspace and Facebook to go through. Not evenTik Tok has come into the picture. There’s so much development and so much growth to go through. All right. I have a couple more questions for you. I know I want to channel it back to you as a person. I know you’re a photographer. You love photography. For starters, how long have you been a photographer for, and are you still active with it?
Yeah, I wouldn’t say I’m a photographer. I would just say I take photos, you know. I mean, I don’t know. I just think there’s so many amazing photographers that like to do photography and that is their primary thing. I just love just capturing people. I love taking photos of people. I love portraits. I love party photography. There’s something about that. I love being in a social environment and having a camera on me or, you know, having a point and shoot and being able to capture the fabric or the texture of something like a really good party or a really good experience. It’s just a way to kind of capture those sorts of memories and share them with friends and sort of apply my own approach to that. But yeah, more of just like a fun little thing, and bringing it around to these different web three parties we’ve been throwing has been really fun as a way to kind of just document everything.
Photography and DAOs – The Similarities
Cool. Are there any similarities between photography and internet communities? Just off the bat? You can name one. We don’t have to dive too into it. I’m just curious because I look back and everything that we do as kids, as early teenagers, as adults, all the dots connect, you know, and there’s similarities and themes in everything that we do. Whether we like to admit it or not, who we are basically consisting of what we’ve done in the past. So from a photography point of view, what is a similarity? Just one, if any, we can even skip it.
Yeah. And I don’t know. I think the ephemeral nature of it. I think with photography, while the photograph is static, you’re capturing a dynamic experience. You’re capturing reality, right? I think that approach to understanding you can ever own that moment, but you’re just sort of like capturing one frame of it, and not being too attached. There’s sort of this idea of no cherished outcome, like not being attached to a specific outcome with photography, is incredibly resonant and relevant to what’s happening right now in web three and the internet. Like you can’t recreate something. Like FWB is a constantly moving, living, breathing organism, and then there will never be another FWB. There’ll be many, many things like FWB, but FWB is a combination of the people and the time and the place and the energy that then creates what we’re experiencing no different than a photograph can never be recreated twice. The light will never be exactly the same. Definitely not party photography, which is my favorite. I never make people pose. I fucking hate when people pose. I’m never like, oh, you guys stand here. I like being like watching a group of people interact, and then I’ll take that photo as, like, this was a thing that was happening at this moment in time. So I guess the ephemerality of it.
All right, great answer. I did not expect that great answer. All right. Two more questions. If Jane Jacobs were to start a DAO, what would she kick off and what would be your role in it?
Jane Jacobs would call other internet and get involved with the Git coin public goods DAO and help think about ways that crypto can do a much better job of supporting public infrastructure and public goods.
And then what would be your role in that?
I would be a mere janitor or gardener pulling the weeds.
What Eats Web 3.0?
Last question. Before I let you go, I’m a big fan of the development of the internet. I love seeing the stages of the internet from web one to web two and now web three. Web one was very much read only, and then web two came into the picture and ate web one. We developed social networks. We developed all these SAAS models. We developed all these internet companies and communities. People were products of the platform and now web three is coming along where there’s co-ownership, everything is transparent, there’s borderless. People are making a lot of money. And web three is supposedly eating web two. What do you think is going to eat web three?
I think if web three is about ownership and co-ownership, web 4.0 four will be about governance. I think we’re still so early in that. Like how are we governing these massive platforms that are now co-owned, right? Like what’s the technology that’s going to revolutionize and improve the governing infrastructure that ensures that web three doesn’t make the same mistakes as Web 2.0. I think that everyone is hurdling down this web three route right now. Very few people are thinking about the role of governance and how most of these token voting models are not sophisticated enough as they should be, because the stakes aren’t high enough yet, but what happens when the stakes become high? And are we building that in a way to ensure that it is an equitable process and it’s not just one token, one vote, which anyone can see the flaws in a model like that. And so, yeah, I think web four will be the technology around governing and how that affects our physical lives in a metaverse context, not as in we’re uploading our brains in a digital environment, but in a voting now affects your day-to-day life because everything has been co owned and fractionalized, and your vote, and input is necessary to determine the success or an outcome of that specific thing that you own, where everything eventually will be fractionalized. So everything will need governing structures and if we don’t have the right technology for that I think that it’s going to be really, really bad or repetitive of the past.
Perfect. I think that’s a great place to end off. Before I let you go, where can we find you? Where can we find your work online in discord, et cetera? Shill yourself for a minute and the projects you’re working on.
Yeah, just, my Twitter @alexxzzhang. I don’t really tweet as much as I should, but yeah, most of my work honestly is FWB so y’all can find me the discord. And then I try to write whenever I get time to share my learnings with other people who are building DAOs, which I think it’s on my mirror. So you just go to my zhang.Mirror.xyz.
Nice, man. Thank you so much. Well, this was fun. I hope to have you on again.